In this video lesson, you will learn about the potential effects of global climate change. You will also learn how some are working to better understand climate change in order to slow the rate of temperature increase on Earth.
The Changing Climate on Earth
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree: we are drastically altering life on Earth and creating global climate change. The cause of this change? Human activities that increase emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and ozone. Greenhouse gases are important because, when present in the right amount, they trap heat under the atmosphere and keep Earth hospitable.
However, in the last century, greenhouse gas emissions have risen to unprecedented levels in the atmosphere. The current concentrations are far too high and are trapping too much heat on Earth. This leads to an overall increase in the temperature of the planet, which affects many other components of our global climate system.
Over the past 100 years, the temperature of Earth has increased by an average of 1.5°F. This may not sound like a lot, but think about your body temperature. A healthy temperature is 98.6°F. If you raise this by 1.5 degrees, you would then have a temperature of 100.1°F. That's a fever and a pretty sick person!
If you've ever had a fever like this, you know how awful it feels. You're hot and cold, you don't have an appetite and you just want to lie in bed until you get better. Now, take into account that this is the average temperature change on Earth. That means that some places are experiencing much greater changes than just those 1.5 degrees.
Extreme Weather Patterns
People tend to associate global climate change with just increasing temperatures, but much like your body goes through cycles of extreme hot and cold during a fever, the earth experiences something very similar. As mentioned before, temperatures on Earth have increased in the past 100 years like never before, and in that period, 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1997.
Not only do temperatures become more extreme, but storms and weather events also increase in severity as temperature rises on Earth. Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy are both examples of extraordinary hurricanes, while Oklahoma was recently devastated by a mile-wide tornado. Why are these storms so much more intense? They get their energy from warm water and wind, and since both of these are becoming warmer along with the earth, this gives the storms more power and the ability to cause more damage.
In addition to storms, other natural disasters are becoming more frequent and severe. In 2013, Colorado was shocked by a raging wildfire like never before. Dangerous forest fires have also taken their toll on the Southwest U.S. and California, killing people and causing extensive damage. These fires are the result of drier conditions and extended summer seasons.
And, speaking of drier conditions, droughts have also become more prevalent as Earth heats up because warmer temperatures mean more moisture evaporates from land. These extreme droughts have caused economic hardships for farmers and ranchers worldwide.
Sea Level Rise
What happens when things heat up? They melt! Polar ice caps and glaciers are certainly no exception to this. Of all the fresh water on Earth, more than 2/3 is stored in frozen ice caps and glaciers.
As they melt into the oceans, they increase the overall volume of liquid, which has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, that somewhere is the land that many people call home. Since the extreme warming of the earth started 100 years ago, sea levels have risen almost 7 inches. Again, this may not sound like much, but think about this: around the world, about 100 million people live within 3 feet of sea level.
If the rate of increase were holding steady, 7 more inches in another 100 years might not be so bad. But, considering the rate of sea level rise in the past 10 years was twice the rate of the past century, we are likely going to lose more than another seven inches of land!
Many plants and animals also make their homes along shorelines. These species are uniquely adapted to their environments, and with rising sea levels, they will be forced to move inland or may simply go extinct, meaning they will be gone from Earth forever. As the polar ice caps and glaciers melt, other animals, such as polar bears and arctic birds, are also at risk of extinction.
In tropical areas, coral reefs provide critical habitat for hundreds of species, but warmer ocean temperatures are killing the vegetation that helps coral survive. Bird migration routes are drastically changing as they search for cooler climates, and many species that are not able to migrate will simply die in the hotter weather.
This all seems pretty doom-and-gloom, but there are people and organizations who are dedicated to understanding and mitigating global climate change. NASA is one organization that provides data to help researchers understand the impacts of climate change on Earth. NASA does this by studying Earth from space. Satellites and other spacecraft orbit Earth and collect information about Earth's land, oceans and atmosphere.
The Environmental Protection Agency, an organization created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment, is also a key data collector. They focus much of their efforts on greenhouse gas emissions data. The data are provided to policymakers and organizations that need this information to impact decisions and policies regarding emissions standards and renewable energy sources.
Some companies are developing new technologies to make us more energy-efficient, while others are interested in making renewable energy sources more affordable. Many cities are working to become more bike-friendly, provide better public transportation and offer rebates to citizens who install energy-efficient appliances.
Another important way we can slow climate change is by protecting natural resources. Forests and oceans are very good at absorbing carbon, which keeps it out of the atmosphere. Agriculture, a major producer of greenhouse gases, can also be more efficient through proper land use and modified irrigation systems.
Public education is by far the best way to spread the word about global climate change. Becoming educated and sharing your knowledge with others will help people understand not only what is happening on Earth as temperatures increase but also what steps they can take in their personal lives.
Over the past 100 years, the temperature on Earth has increased at an alarming rate. On average, the earth has become 1.5°F warmer, which is similar to you going from a normal body temperature to a fever, but on a much larger scale! Like having a fever, the earth experiences extreme temperature changes, which leads to other issues, such as altered weather patterns, more intensive storms and more severe and frequent droughts and forest fires.
A warmer Earth also means that glaciers and polar ice caps will continue to melt. This melting water will add to the oceans and raise sea levels. Over the past 100 years, sea levels have already risen almost 7 inches and are continuing to rise more quickly as time passes. Sea level rise not only affects humans but also the plants and animals along shorelines. Other habitats are also affected by global climate change, and the loss of natural habitat will force organisms to search for new habitat or possibly go extinct.
In order to understand the effects of global climate change, scientists and organizations continue to collect data and share their findings with other organizations, companies, policymakers and the public. Incentives for energy-efficient products and making renewable energy sources more affordable are current methods being used to try and offset the dangerous impacts of global climate change that we are already experiencing on Earth.
You may be able to do the following after completing this lesson:
- Analyze the implications of global climate change
- Point out the increase in temperature that has occurred on Earth over the last 100 years and understand its effects
- Paraphrase the effects of the rise in sea level
- Name the agencies and organizations that are working to reduce global climate change and provide examples of ways that people may do so